Too Hot to Trot: The Dog Days of Summer Aren’t for Dogs

Too Hot to Trot: The Dog Days of Summer Aren’t for Dogs©2001
by Zandra Anderson

To make their jogging treks more fun, many runners decide to bring along their four-legged best friends. But, there are important things to consider when exercising with your dog, especially in the hot, humid days of summer.
Never underestimate the heat of a Texas summer. As a runner, I know all too well what the heat can do to you. Now imagine running in the heat wearing a fur coat and a body temperature of over 101 degrees. That’s what your dog does–literally and with virtually no sweat glands. With the exception of a few glands on their paws and nose, dogs do not have sweat glands. They cannot cool themselves by sweating. They pant, which only counteracts the heat minimally.

Because of this, dogs are very susceptible to dangerous elevations in their body temperature, which can result in heat stroke. This is true even for dogs with short hair, and increases with the length of the coat.
Some dogs bred for cold climates have thick under fur which is designed to retain the animal’s body heat. Dogs such as Chow-Chows, Huskies and Samoyeds should never be jogged in hot weather. Brachycephalic dogs (ones with “smooshed” faces) like an English Bulldog, Pug or Boxer, have trouble breathing in temperate weather and are at great risk for overheating.

Another thing to consider is the color of the dog. The darker the animal, the more it retains heat. Just think of the difference in temperature when you get into a black versus a white car in mid-July. The humidity is a big factor as well since the higher the humidity the more difficult it is to stay cool.

When a dog pants, air absorbs the moisture allowing it to cool off. Consequently, if the humidity is high, the dog’s ability to cool off by panting is diminished. Just as in humans, if the dog’s temperature elevates dangerously, it will have a heatstroke and may die, or be permanently brain damaged.

In the summer, exercise with your dog in the coolest part of the day, and in the hot and humid “dog days” don’t jog with your dog at all. Short walks in the coolest part of the day is all that is safe and still might not be for dogs with a heavy undercoat.

Doggy’s Danger Zone. Many dogs, out of a desire to please their owner, may get dangerously overheated while jogging without protesting. I have two friends who lost their dogs to heatstroke and neither dog showed any signs of trouble. Sadly, the owners were not aware of the danger or the warning signs of this summer killer. One friend was jogging with her dog, Molly, at night, but August nights in Dallas for a Chow-Chow proved deadly. The other friend was jogging in Houston with her Black Lab, Shannon, and was only going a short distance but it proved too much for the dog.

The “Tell Tail” Signs of Trouble. It’s up to dog owners to be keenly aware of what can trigger a heatstroke. Recognizing the signs of overheating can save your dog. When a dog pants in a normal state, it will pant for a while and then stop to swallow. When the dog overheats, the panting will be extremely fast and labored, and the dog will not stop to swallow.

An overheated dog will be very hot to the touch, particularly in places where there is little hair, such as the stomach and under the legs where they attach to the torso. The gums will be red, and the dog may exhibit a lack of coordination. It may try to lie down, or start pulling on the lead, not wanting to continue. An overheated dog may lie on its side panting, becoming semiconscious, or even totally pass out.

All of these signs by themselves or in conjunction with one another are signs of danger or possible heat prostration which can result in a stroke and necessitate immediate intervention. These signs mean the dog is in trouble and the body temperature needs to be lowered immediately. Remember also that leaving a dog inside a parked car with the windows cracked–even in the shade–can lead to a life threatening situation.

Cool It! The best way to lower a dog’s body temperature is to put cool, not icy, water on the dog’s body. The water should not be too cold or the dog could go into shock from the sudden change in body temperature. If available, wet your dog down with a water hose. Then soak towels in cool water and wrap them around the dog, particularly around the head area, as well as under the legs and stomach.

It is crucial to cool the head area because the brain controls body temperature. A dog’s temperature can actually get so high that seizures may occur.  If a dog is not overheated to the point that it collapses or lies down, it is safe to give it small amounts of cool water. For a 30 pound dog, only offer about a quarter of a cup of water every 20 minutes. An overheated dog may have an inclination to drink too much water and overfill its stomach which can cause vomiting.

Pet to the Vet. If the dog has collapsed, the above first aid measures should be done initially before taking the animal to the veterinarian. Do not think that the air-conditioning in your car will bring down the dog’s temperature. It won’t.

Once at the vet’s office, the vet can treat the dog by administering cortisone injections and beginning intravenous fluids. Cortisone is given to bring the animal’s blood pressure back to normal. Once a dog has overheated, or gone into a state of shock from overheating, a decrease in cardiac output occurs which lowers the blood pressure.
The overheated dog’s blood vessels and capillaries can dilate to the point that the intestines do not get the blood supply needed. When this happens, the cells of the intestines slough away and the animal begins to lose the lining of its bowels. This can result in diarrhea and further hasten dehydration. Since the bowel has lost its lining, it makes it difficult for the dog to absorb fluids through the stomach. That is why intravenous fluids may become necessary.

Prevention: Drink to Your Pup’s Content. Prevention is always the best medicine, so be sure to have plenty of fresh, cool water for your pet on hand whenever your exercise, even when it’s not hot outside. It is perfectly fine for dogs to drink Gatorade. Gatorade provides replenishment of sodium, potassium, electrolytes and water. Some dogs may not like Gatorade, but cubes of frozen Gatorade can be placed in the dog’s water or simply mix some Gatorade with it, thereby helping to restore these important nutrients. The best approach is to err on the side of safety and never get your canine overheated, but if it does happen, or you see someone else’s pet in trouble, act swiftly to avoid injury.

Paws for Concern. Another important consideration for us in jogging is our choice of running shoes, but puppies aren’t born with Nikes. While we beat the pavement with jogging shoes, Fido meets the streets bare. There’s nothing between him and the pavement but skin. Couple that with the heat, and you have potential disaster.
The paws of a dog are made up of fleshy padding filled with a rich blood supply. They are sensitive. Imagine running without your shoes, or maybe with just socks. The dog, just as a human, must become acclimated to jogging so as not to injure the paws.

Dogs, zealous to please, may literally wear off the pads of their paws leaving bloody wounds which make the poor pooch needlessly limp for a long time while the skin slowly heals. Then the pup’s paws have to be reconditioned.
As the weather warms up, so does the pavement. Hot streets dramatically increase the risk of injury to your pet’s paws. The street can blister them and cause the skin to come off. Also, there’s the risk of getting melted tar and whatever sticks to the tar imbedded in and between the pads of the paws–yet another reason to keep your dog off the street while you run. If you aren’t fortunate enough to have a running trail, then you take the street and give the dog the soft shoulder.

In addition to conditioning his paws, a dog’s muscles must be strengthened to get in shape for jogging. The dog is just like us, except instead of having two sore legs, he will have four. A note for cyclists: leave your dog at home. It is too hard for a dog to keep up with a bicycle and way too hard on the paws and legs particularly in the summer heat.

Do Unto Puppy as You Would to Yourself. Jogging with your dog can be lots of fun, but just remember to treat your dog like you would yourself–don’t overdo it, pick safe surfaces, keep lots of water on hand for both of you, know when to stop and know when to never even start. Heeding these suggestions so that you can have your dog as a jogging pal is well worth it because dogs make the best running partners. They’re always available and best of all, they couldn’t care less how you look afterwards. Happy trails with happy tails!

The author would like to acknowledge the contributions to this article made by Houston veterinarians G.M. Bringhurst, D.V.M., Matt M. Dikeman, D.V.M. and Taffi Tippit, D.V.M. This article is dedicated to Molly and Shannon whose stories will hopefully save other pups who want only to please.

This article first appeared in Houston Health and Fitness in 2001.

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